Battleground Waterloo - Commander Control Feature


Commander Control is the best kept secret of the Battleground series. The following document is an attempt to consolidate the most important information from all the posts regarding the subject in the form of a users manual.

1. BEHAVIOUR OF TROOPS ON THE REAL BATTLEFIELD

The battlefield of the early 19th Century was very different from that of today. Artillery was king of the field, soldiers were massed together in tight formations, and the use of cavalry was reaching its height.

At the same time, the idea of battlefield psychology was beginning to be seriously studied by students of warfare.

The rigid formations of the day were used in part to give the individual soldier a feeling of strength, and of belonging to a protective unit. The soldier was expected to act as an automaton. Years of training had taught him to obey his commanding officer without question, and to automatically perform a set series of tasks upon the order. In the heat of battle, however, the natural instinct to flee overcame even the best trained soldiers. This urge could surface at any time, depending upon the soldier's level of training and his temperament.

At first, the soldier would tend to slow down if advancing, and nervousness would make his loading and firing slower and less effective. As his friends were wounded and killed around him, he might seek some excuse to move to the rear of the formation. Eventually, his instinct might take over completely, and he would run.

As these instinctive actions took over the individuals in a formation, a kind of mass reaction would occur, so that the instinct to flee would spread throughout the formation. At this point, the entire formation would break and run.

2. DRAWBACKS OF TALONSOFT'S BATTLEGROUND SYSTEM

The Battleground system, while being a good simulation of the tactical aspects of combat in the 19th Century, falls down in a number of key areas:

The AI is very poor compared to other historical simulations, and while it models the tactics of the Napoleonic Wars/American Civil War quite well, it fails in adequately challenging the player.

The game takes a long time to play. There are over 200 units per side in the larger scenarios, all of them requiring individual attention from the player up to three times per turn. With games of 44 turns per day, and of 1 to 3 days in length, the games can take weeks to finish.

The game system allows the player too much control over small sized (eg: battalion sized) units, allowing these units to react strategically to battlefield conditions when in reality, such units would have only a very localised concept of conditions. This ability of the player to over-control small units also affects the built-in fatigue effects, allowing a player to advance with units which would in reality have reached their limits of endurance.

The morale of a unit is also modifyable by the player: units which have routed tend to lose their routed status too quickly, and as 'Disordered' troops, can be turned around and used effectively by the player long before their historical counterparts could have returned to a responsive state.

Because the player is able to over-control small-sized units, they can be forced to fight at higher fatigue levels than the AI controlled units - leading to higher casualties taken by these highly stressed units. When two human opponents play, the resulting casualties can be staggering, and far greater than those suffered in any historical battle.

3. ADVANTAGES OF COMMANDER CONTROL OVER THE 'NORMAL' SYSTEM OF PLAY

When using the Commander Control option, the AI works better. This is because it is working as both your opponent, and also your lower level commanders. The player is still able to direct the placement of his/her troops in a similar way to that of a real commander, but the AI controls all lower level tactical decisions on both sides, forcing the human player's units to move and fight as their historical counterparts did. This negates the ability of the human player to 'think around' the AI's method of moving/fighting, and evens out the odds.

The use of the AI to manage the tactical decisions (what enemy unit to fire at, which hex to advance into, whether to melee, etc.), makes the game much more realisic in terms of the simulation, and also allows the player to complete a game in a much shorter period of time.

The morale of units is much more difficult for the player to overcome. Routed units tend to stay where they are after having routed, and disordered status means what it says - the units cannot usually be ordered to move until their fatigue/health has been improved.

Similarly to the above, the fatigue levels have a much greater effect on play. The AI is forced to pull back units which are highly fatigued, and these units will not obey orders to move towards the enemy until they have recovered.

Because the AI must withdraw units which have taken a lot of casualties/fatigue points, these units are no longer subjected to fire, which would normally cause these units greater casualties than an equal, but fresh unit. This makes the games far less bloody, and casualty numbers tend to be close to their historical levels.

4. WHAT COMMAND LEVELS TO USE

The command levels used by the player affect two things; the length of time spent in playing the game, and the difficulty level of the game.

The game can be played in a very short time (maybe 4-5 hours for BGW) by selecting only the Army commander (Lee in BGG, or Ney in BGW). This level of command ensures that you will have the most difficulty in beating the AI opponent. The drawbacks are that you will have the least control over your units, and will only have control over your corps commanders. The game, when played at this level, does not (in my view) present a good simulation. Attacks are too large in scale, involving an entire corps, where in reality, part of the corps would be held back as a reserve.

When Corps level command is chosen (all except divisional and brigade leaders), the simulation is at its best - 8 hours gaming time for BGW, this level allows orders to be given to divisional commanders, and therefore attacks are on the divisional level. This amount of control makes for an exciting game against the AI, because the army at this level is about as flexible as its historical counterpart.

When Divisional level is chosen (all leaders except the brigade commanders), the system works well, and the player has more control over his/her units, allowing command of individual brigades. This works as well as the above command level, but gives a little more control to the player, meaning that the AI is slightly weaker. This level of control takes about 10-12 hours to play, when playing BGW.

The last level of control is Brigade (with all leaders chosen). This level allows almost as much control as the 'normal' game, although the player's units will change formation and fire under AI control. This works well as an introduction to CC, for someone who needs to ease him/herself into the system, and who is wary about the loss of control inherent in the use of CC. BGW will take over 12 hours to complete at this level, and the computer will be relatively easy to beat.

5. STRATEGY AND TACTICS IN COMMANDER CONTROL

Although Commander Control does not allow tactical control of individual units, there are some important grand tactical and strategic tips which may help the player who is new to Commander Control.

It is very important to keep a reserve. When playing the 'normal' game, it is often the case that the player can win by overwhelming the enemy, by using all available troops in a single, all encompassing attack. The troops will be fatigued, and some will rout, but in general they will still obey orders. When using CC however, if you use this tactic, you will find that both your army, and your opponent's army will become useless. You may have gained a VP hex, but you will not be able to do anything for the remainder of the day. As the French in BGW, this can be fatal, since in the afternoon, the fresh Prussian reenforcements will simply roll over you. At best you will suffer a minor defeat. The importance of keeping a reserve cannot be over-stressed. When attacking a VP hex with a division, the units involved in the attack will become fatigued. Before they rout, reenforce them with a fresh division from your reserve. This fresh force will soon make short work of the defenders, and you can withdraw your original attack division before they become unmanageable, and also screen them from enemy fire - which would have a far greater effect on them than it will on their fresh replacements.

Units in the game can really only be expected to carry out one all-out assault per day. After this they will become too fatigued to be of offensive value, and if used in an offensive, will start to disobey orders and take casualties at an alarming rate

It must be remembered that cavalry are very fragile, and should be used sparingly. It is especially easy to lose control of cavalry units when using CC. Make sure that you only order cavalry to attack enemy units which are unsupported by other units nearby, unless the loss of your cavalry is worth the tactical gain.

Artillery are the most irritating thing about CC. They never seem to attack the target you set for them. They tend to be best when used in a supporting role, or against enemy cavalry. Artillery cannot be used effectively to put fire down upon a specific hex - for some reason it just doesn't work that way. This is realistic however, since artillery was rarely used as a massive bombardment on a single position - it was needed much more as a support for defence and attack over the entire field.

6. AI ORDER INTERPRETATION AND IMPLEMENTATION

It is important for you as the player to have a basic knowledge of what the different commands mean, in order to use them to your best advantage. Talonsoft's rule book gives a good overview, and I have added a few observations.

Attack (extreme): This order will cause units to attack in a more concentrated formation with maximum stacking in each hex. Units will not fall back until all units are not in good order. Use this to order your troops to take and hold an enemy position.

Attack: This order causes a unit to attack a specific objective. Units will fall back after taking a medium level of casualties. Use this order when 'softening up' an objective hex in preparation for a final assault with fresh troops. Your first wave can then be pulled back, and will be useful later in the day.

No Order: This orders a unit not to move. It can fire at will. This order enables units to recover fatigue as fast as possible.

Defend: Units will move so as to defend the specified objective. They will retreat if pressed, retaining reasonably good order. This order can be used to defend a non-essential position.

Defend (extreme): This order will cause units not to fall back until all units are no longer in good order. Use this order to hold a VP hex at all costs.

Try not to change orders on an organisation which has just achieved an objective. If you take an objective hex using an 'attack (extreme)' order, it is best to leave the order on the organisation until the enemy are well away from the hex. The reason is, if you change the order to 'defend (extreme)' the organisation will re-organise the position of its subordinate units, and may leave the objective hex open to enemy counter-attacks.

7. EFFECTS OF FATIGUE, QUALITY AND HEALTH ON ORDER IMPLEMENTATION

If a unit has a high fatigue value, it is more likely to become disrupted, or to rout, than a unit with low fatigue. A unit of low quality is more likely to become disordered/rout than one of high quality. Health seems to be the amount of non-disordered/routed units in a particular organisation, expressed as a percentage of the organisation's total strength. The fatigue level, and quality of a unit/organisation both seem to have an effect upon its ability to follow orders. An organisation with good health (80-100%) and few casualties will perform well on the battlefield, following your orders to the letter, sending out skirmishers to cover its flanks. An organisation with medium health (60-80%) can usually be relied on to obey, but should not be used to defend/attack an essential VP hex unless absolutely necessary. It will no longer send out skirmishers, and subordinate units will tend to act more irrationally - routing towards the enemy, refusing to attack/move, etc. A unit with low health (0-60%) should not be relied upon to perform any tasks other than filling out the line in a non-essential area. These troops will resist any attempt to move them, and will rout at the first sight of the enemy.

As the battle wears on, units become more and more fatigued. As this happens, the units tend to obey orders less and less, until all units are basically spent. They will tend to stay in the same position, and ignore orders to attack or defend.

8. COMMAND CONTROL'S SIMILARITY TO REAL COMMAND

To appreciate Commander Control, and its similarity to real command, the player must be willing to accept the following maxims:

1. A commander's plan for battle is rarely brought to fruition.

2. The troops rarely understand the commander's plan.

3. The lack of understanding often results in the stupidest battlefield manoeuvres.

4. Battleground AI simulates these communication difficulties very well.

5. It is your job as commander to respond to these problems, overcome them, and win the game.

If you accept these points, you are well on your way to accepting the basic idea of commander control - that it isn't how well you plan the battle, or even how cleverly your men maneouvre and fire during the battle. The essential thing that makes a good commander great is his/her ability to respond to changing events, and turn them to his/her advantage.

9. THE USE OF IMAGINATION WHEN USING COMMANDER CONTROL

Commander Control can be extremely frustrating. As in a real battle, your subordinates will often disobey your orders, or they will obey your orders, but using the stupidest manoeuvres. Sometimes whole divisions will rout just at the moment of victory, and other times, units will simply refuse to move onto an empty (but enemy-controlled) VP hex. These occurrences are all a part of Commander Control (and a part of real life). These 'AI problems' can actually enhance the simulation, adding 'real battlefield' restrictions on an otherwise omniscient player.

There is a way of dealing with your frustration when faced with a plan gone wrong, which can actually enhance your enjoyment of the game: Use your imagination - rather than cursing that artillery unit when it unlimbers in a valley with a restricted line of sight, instead of on the hill you ordered it to deploy on - ask yourself why. There could be a number of reasons - the horses might not be able to pull the guns up the steep incline to reach the crest, the road the artillery drove up might be surrounded by thick hedges, with only a small field accessible nearby, or the cavalry might simply have misunderstood your order. The use of the player's imagination is essential for enjoyment of the game, and it adds a whole new dimension to the gaming experience. You'll find there's a logical explanation for everything if you look hard enough.

10. COMMANDER CONTROL BY E-MAIL

There is a way to play using Commander Control and E-Mail. Simply choose Commander Control for both sides, play your turn, then save the game when your opponent's leader dialog appears. Then send the game file - saved as a .btl file (not .bte) if I remember correctly - to your opponent via e-mail. He then puts it in the correct directory, and repeats the process.

There is even a way to play using the fog of war option:

First, select Commander Control for yourself, and Automatic with FOW for your opponent. Play as normal until you reach the Cavalry Charge phase. Switch from 'run' to 'pause' in the AI Action dialog box, then 'step' through the remaining cavalry charges. At the start of the melee phase, before any melees have been resolved, change the AI menu so that your opponent is also playing with 'Commander Control'. You will then have to input the leaders he/she will control. Then you can watch the melee phase. When the next phase begins, and the opponent's order dialog appears, you will change your side to 'Automatic With FOW' in the AI menu. Then save the game. The game file is now ready to be sent to your opponent. Your opponent then plays through his/her turn until the cavalry charge phase, and then he/she repeats the above procedure.

The Fog of War option is not perfect, but apart from the Cavalry Charge phase, it will be in effect. It is important not to run through the entire game turn, so you might want to left click on the phase box at the beginning of each phase, so that you don't run through the Cavalry and Melee phases. If you change the AI dialog after the start of the next game turn the game will crash. Also, if you change it halfway through the melee phase, it will run through the phase from the beginning (which is frustrating, since you could get a totally different result from your melees). Also, when the opponent receives the file and loads it, he/she may have to alter the AI menu so that his/her opponent is 'Automatic with FOW' - When I tested the procedure, this is what I had to do, but it should work as described above.

The record battle option can be used, but to allow your opponent to see it, you must also send him/her the .btr file along with the .btl file.

Have fun with the Email version of Commander Control.

By Ian Cooper